Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Caribou, CO

Taking its name from the Caribou Silver Mine located outside of town, the community of Caribou was an active mining settlement and boomtown that survived from the 1870s until the great Depression of the 1930s.

As early as 1861 prospectors had discovered placer gold in their sluices while they panned for gold in the creeks and streams below Caribou. Tracing these leaving upstream, they eventually discovered the first significant silver veins in what would become the Caribou Mining District. Sam Conger and five partners staked the Caribou and Conger claims in 1869, and the mines were so successful that they brought up nearly $8 million in silver before they closed in 1884. The town was founded in 1870 and had nearly 400 full-time residents by 1871. There was a church, three saloons, a brewery and an independent newspaper, the Caribou Post.

In 1871 the mine was sold to a group of Dutch investors, though they were quick to find out that the best ore had already been mined out and the mines were nowhere near as profitable as they had first been. The mines limped along until they were purchased by a pair of Denver businessmen, Jerome B. Chaffee and David Moffat. The final descent of the town was rapid, with a major fire destroying most of the buildings in 1879. From a peak population of 3,000 people in 1874, there were fewer than fifty residents by the 1920s.

The Caribou Mining District gave Colorado the nickname of "The Silver State". When President Ulysses S. Grant visited Central City, Colorado in 1882, 70-pound bars of silver, mined and smelted in Caribou, were used to line the President's path through the city.

Today, Caribou is a ghost town with only a handful of ruined buildings still remaining. It is more desolate than other mining towns that have retained a small population, such as Gold Hill or Sunshine, CO, and the town site is slowly reverting back into a natural state. From a good vantage point you can still see the outlines of many foundations and trace the layout of the once bustling mining town. There is still an active mine in the area, since the Caribou and Cross mines were acquired by a private investor in the 1980s, and the massive pile of mine tailings to the west of the town site serves to emphasize the history of the area.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

John Wesley Iliff, the Cattle King of the West

The history of Colorado and the Front Range is full of wild tales of personal success. Prospectors, merchants, miners, and more came to the area beginning in the mid-1850s. With the California Gold Rush beginning to taper off, many began to look towards the Rocky Mountains and the possible wealth that lay hidden there. Miners and prospectors receive the most attention because of the sense of freedom and adventure that surrounded their lives and the "get rich quick" nature of their profession. However, almost 9 out of 10 miners either failed to strike it rich or lost everything in the hurly burly of their profession and it was the people who followed after the prospectors, merchants, saloon owners, barbers, and cattlemen, could be said to have made out better in the end.

John Wesley Iliff was a native Ohioan. After completing his studies at Wesleyan University, he headed west to pursue his fortune. Initially settling in the Kansas Territory, he eventually ended up in the Auraria township with a wagon load of goods and opened the area's first general store. The store was a success, but Iliff sold it off in 1861 in order to buy a herd of cattle that had been weakened by the long trek across the western plains. Taking time to nurture and fatten the cattle, Iliff realized a huge profit when he sold the cattle to mining towns that were desperate for supplies. Denver did not have a railroad connection until 1870, and essential supplies, like cattle and other foodstuffs, were expensive and often in short supply. Iliff's business savvy turned this initial investment in livestock into an empire that would dominate the Colorado livestock trade and establish Iliff himself as the city's first millionaire. A mere seven years after purchasing his first cattle, Iliff owned nearly 25,000 head of livestock, and roughly 8,000 acres of land. By the 1870s, Iliff was one of the key suppliers of beef to Union Pacific and other railroad construction crews, as well as nearby Native American reservations. By the end of his life his property would encompass almost 15,000 square acres of prime grazing land, much of it attached to essential water sources and tying up incredibly valuable water rights, and he would graze his cattle over nearly 650,000 acres of public domain land that fell within the boundaries of the Colorado Territory.

After a wildly successful professional life, one that mimics the similar success of James Lick in California, John Wesley Iliff passed away at the relatively early age of 47. His wife, Elizabeth, was quick to sell off Iliff's cattle and property and invested the money safely. In 1892 she donated $100,000 to found the Iliff School of Theology, an institution which still stands on Iliff St. in the University Park neighborhood of Denver. Iliff was buried beneath a 65-ton granite monument in Denver's Riverside Cemetery, but in 1920 his daughter, Louise, had both the monument and his remains moved to the newer and more fashionable Fairmount Cemetery.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Valmont School, Boulder

The Valmont School was built in 1911 and served the town of Valmont, a small farm community that was located north of Boulder, CO. The town site now falls within the boundaries of Boulder.

Valmont (a contraction of "valley" and "mountain") was established in the years immediately following the Pikes Peak Gold Rush of 1859, and was built to serve the needs of the tide of settlers and prospectors who flocked to the area in search of wealth and adventure. The community was laid out near the confluence of the North and South Boulder Creeks. Valmont Butte, a high ridge of volcanic basalt, formed an easily visible landmark in what was then a largely treeless valley and the town grew relatively quickly, populated not by miners or prospectors, but the people who followed them west, merchants, saloon owners, barbers, farmers, and blacksmiths who provided material support and supplied the miners with the supplies they needed to explore the Rocky Mountains. For a number of years the Valmont community was larger and more developed than the nearby town of Boulder, with Valmont playing host to the areas first flour mill and newspaper. It was a short lived triumph though, and following the creation of the Colorado Territory in 1861 Boulder won the bid to be named the county seat. The town of Valmont was formally platted in 1865 and was continued to rival Boulder in size and commercial activity.

There are a number of original buildings that are still standing and, impressively, still in use. The original stagecoach stop that was built in 1860 by Tommy Jones still stands, as does a small cemetery and a number of small outbuildings and sheds. The Valmont Presbyterian Church is also still in use. Built between 1866 and 1881, is is the oldest continually meeting Presbyterian church in Colorado. Perhaps most visible of all though is the Valmont School, which stands immediately off of 61st Street, north of Boulder. It is still largely intact and looks the part of the iconic one-room American schoolhouse. Though it's behind a fence you can still see the school quite well and the surrounding neighborhood is really beautiful, full of small farms and rustic charm.

Getting There By Bike...
The Valmont area is an easy bike ride away from downtown Boulder. Luckily Boulder is particularly well served by a network of bike paths and bike lanes, so getting around the city is quite easy. If you follow the Boulder Creek Bicycle Path east and north across Arapahoe Road, you'll eventually find yourself paralleling Pearl Parkway. At the end of the trail merge onto 55th St. north, make a right onto Valmont Road, and then a left on 61st St. Valmont Road is quite busy and has some fast traffic, but it also has a very large shoulder. Be careful anyway, it never hurts.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sunshine, CO

Sunshine was an important early mining community in the mountains outside of Boulder, CO. It is largely abandoned these days, though the U.S. Census claims that there are 230 full-time residents who can still claim to live in Sunshine.

The road into Sunshine, CO
Sunshine, CO was founded in 1874 and was named after a large tellurium lode that was discovered nearby by D.C. Patterson. The town grew quickly and haphazardly, as most mining towns do, and the result was a bustling community that boasted nearly 1,200 residents during its glory days. Several more mines were opened in the nearby hills and the community thrived through the first quarter of the 20th century, though eventually it succumbed to the economic crash of the Great Depression, as did a number of small mining towns in Colorado, such as Caribou, and by the 1930s it was effectively a ghost town.

A fun fact about Sunshine is that the town's founders intended the community to be a mining town apart from all the rest, a town that would have a sound moral basis and wouldn't be known for the kind of excesses that plagued other mining communities. Saloons in Sunshine were required to close on Sundays, and one of the first municipal buildings built for the community was a schoolhouse. Sunshine School District #28 was organized in 1875 and served 103 pupils in its first year.

Sunshine is a great little ghost town, and there are apparently quite a few buildings left form the original town, though the majority off them are either located on private property or have been incorporated into newer buildings that are still being used by residents who remain in the area. As you head up Sunshine Canyon there are a handful of older buildings that are visible by the side of the road, and one particularly memorable collection of old mining equipment in someone's front yard, but many of the buildings are back off the road quite a ways and are not easily visible. Be aware that if you head off into the woods to see something you are more than likely walking across someone's yard. Be courteous and don't go where you haven't been invited.

Sunshine Cemetery
The gates of Sunshine Cemetery
The Sunshine Cemetery is one of the few remaining, and easy to find, traces of what was once a bustling little mountain town. Located in a field next to the road heading up Sunshine Canyon, the cemetery is small and quaint, as most mountain cemeteries are, and is still relatively well cared for despite the fact that the town it served doesn't exist any more. After a quick tour of the tombstones you can definitely tell that you are touring a mining town cemetery. The residents of the cemetery tend to fall into two categories; children who passed away before the age of ten, or men in their twenties whose memorial inscriptions tend to involve the words "mining accident". We were able to find some tombstones that date back to the 1880s, basically right after the town was founded, and there are a large number of visible, though otherwise unmarked, graves that fill up the bulk of the space within the cemetery.
Graves in Sunshine, CO

Getting There By Bike...
Are you ready for a climb? Sunshine Canyon is actually one of the more popular evening and weekend riding spots for a lot of cyclists in Boulder, but that's almost entirely because the grade is steep and rather unrelenting. There is a parking area at the bottom of the canyon where you'll find any number of cyclists unloading their bikes from their cars and preparing for a hard workout. If you decide to drive up instead, please be aware that you will be passing cyclists on the shoulder both going up and coming down. If you keep going up Sunshine Canyon you'll eventually reach another small mining community, Gold Hill, CO. Gold Hill is worth the trip if you have the legs. There are a lot of original buildings and the town looks almost exactly the same as it did in the 1870s.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bonus Post: Arbuckle's Ariosa, the Coffee that Won the West

For your enjoyment, a bonus post for the Fourth of July. This post isn't strictly related to Colorado, or California, or even cycling, but instead to an essential factor in United States consumer and social culture, the conquest of the Wild West in either state, and bicycling endeavors across the globe...coffee.

In 1773 the drinking of coffee in the United States became a patriotic duty, following the actions of the Boston Tea Party and the rejection of British tea by the citizenry. In fact, it was declared the national drink of the United States by the Continental Congress in protest to the excessive taxes levied on tea by the British government. Our love affair with the brew continued through the first half of the nineteenth century and, following the events of the Civil War, was at an all time high. By 1900 the United States was consuming nearly half of the coffee produced in the world.

Arbuckle's Ariosa Coffee
Coffee preparation at this time didn't vary much from the manner in which Ethiopian tribesmen, the first coffee drinkers, prepared their brew. Beans were dry roasted in a pan, crushed or milled, and then boiled in a kettle. Things began to change around 1865 when the Arbuckle brothers, John and Charles, patented a method to coat roasted coffee beans with a mixture of eggs and sugar. This effectively sealed the beans and prevented further oxidization, meaning that the beans could be packaged, shipped, and still retain their flavor upon their arrival at their destination. One-pound bags of Arbuckle's Ariosa Coffee quickly became a common sight out west, where ranch cooks were expected to keep copious amounts of coffee hot and ready for hard working cowboys. The Arbuckle brothers were intelligent marketers and included all manner of coupons in their packages of coffee, for everything from bandanas, to shirts, to wedding rings. Also included inside every package was a stick of peppermint candy. The upshot to this was that hard-pressed cooks rarely had to mill the coffee themselves, since someone could usually be found who would do the work in exchange for the candy.

By 1910 the electric percolator had been invented and coffee preparation had gone both into the home, where housewives didn't have to watch over a pot of boiling coffee any longer, and into large-scale cafeterias, where large electric percolators brewed coffee for dozens of people at a time. By the start of World War I instant coffee was on the scene and was sent overseas as a part of every U.S. serviceman's kit. The phrase "cup of joe" comes from "G.I. Joe", World War I slang for American soldiers who always had their mugs of coffee with them.

The American craze for coffee, usually drank several times throughout the day, gave birth to lunch counters and soda fountains during the inter-war years. In the 1920s, during Prohibition, American coffee consumption boomed. By the 1940s, American consumers were drinking 70 percent of the coffee brewed worldwide. U.S. soldiers sent overseas during World War II had packages of instant Maxwell House Coffee included in their mess kits. American's relationship with coffee was so intense that widespread coffee hoarding during World War II eventually led to its being rationed by the U.S. government.

The "coffee break" is an American invention as well, created by factory owners during World War II in order to give their employees a short break and a much needed jolt of caffeine. The Pan American Coffee Bureau got into the act as well, launching a campaign in the mid-1950s to encourage coffee breaks in the work place and develop the consumption of Central and South American Arabica coffee, in which it had a controlling interest. After all, what could be more American than having our leisure time dictated by controlling corporate interests? By the end of the decade the Pan American Coffee Bureau reported that 70 to 80 percent of American workers were taking at least one coffee break per work day. President Eisenhower even leapt on the bandwagon, developing a plan he called "Operation Coffee Cup" during his presidential campaign and using informal coffee breaks and sit-downs in order to meet and talk with voters.

Getting There By Bike...
An essential part of this blog, "Getting There By Bike", wouldn't be possible without coffee. I'll raise my cup to all of you and wish you a happy Fourth of July. As always, thank you for reading.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

William Greeneberry Russell

William Greeneberry Russell was a prospector and gold miner who settled in the Kansas Territory, in what would become Denver, in 1858.

William Greeneberry Russell
Russell was, in many ways, the single individual responsible for the development of what would become the city of Denver, and his discovery of gold in Little Dry Creek sparked both the settlement of the front range by white miners as well as the Longs Peak Gold Rush. He was also the head of the first large party of miners and settlers, numbering 107 individuals, who made their way into the Front Range and founded a permanent settlement. After establishing mining operations at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River, at what is now Confluence Park in central Denver, Russell didn't meet with immediate or inspiring success. In fact, many of the original settlers that accompanied him, dispirited by the poor mining, opted to return to Georgia, Russell's home state and where he had found many of those who were willing to follow him west. However, in July of 1858 Russell did find a small deposit of gold in Little Dry Creek. News of the discovery was carried back to Kansas and newspapers there began writing of the gold that was waiting to be dug out of the Rocky Mountains. By September of 1859, there were nearly 900 miners working the deposits in Gregory Gulch and the Longs Peak Gold Rush was off and running.

Russell's association with gold mining in the Front Range didn't end well as he was run out of town after 1860 and the beginning of the Civil War. The community of miners was overwhelmingly comprised of Union soldiers and supporters and, as a Southerner, Russell saw the political and social environment turn quickly against him. He left Colorado only to be caught up in the Civil War. After the war he returned to Colorado but was not as successful as he had been previously. He settled in Indian Territory with his wife where he passed away after an illness.